United States v Lara

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 03-03-2016
  • Case #: 14-50120
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Court Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Court Judges Paez and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

An officer may not unreasonably search a probationer's cell phone as a condition of probation.

Probation Officers, Jennifer Fix and Joseph Ortiz, searched Paulo Lara’s cell phones because it was a standard protocol for probation officers to do so. Lara was not asked permission first to search the phone, however, Lara did not refuse. When searching the text messages, the officer discovered photographs of a gun. The officers searched for a gun inside the home but instead found a folding knife, which violated the probation terms. Data embedded in the photographs subsequently revealed the location of the gun and a gun that resembled the gun depicted in the picture was found. Lara claimed that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated during the two searches. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit looked into whether the search of Lara’s cell phone during probation was reasonable by balancing both Lara’s privacy interest and the extent that a legitimate governmental interests is served. The panel noted that Lara had a privacy interest in his cell phone regardless if it was somewhat diminished by being on probation. The two interests raised by the state were to combat recidivism and integrate probationers back into the community, which were rejected. Ultimately, the court concluded that “‘privacy-related concerns are weighty enough’ a ‘search may require a warrant, notwithstanding the diminished expectations of privacy of the arrestee.” REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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